The ‘new deer field’ of the Indo-Pacific competition: Indonesia

  Unexpectedly, after the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia announced in September 2021 the formation of a new alliance of “Trilateral Security Partnership” (AUKUS, Okus) to assist the Australian Navy to build 8 nuclear-powered submarines equipped with long-range strike missiles, Indonesia, which has been tepid in the world for a long time, was suddenly brought on fire, and its value skyrocketed.
  The United States, Britain and Australia have tried their best to woo Indonesia, trying to persuade Indonesia to support, or at least not oppose, “Okus”; major powers such as France and Russia, which have been excluded from the United States’ new Indo-Pacific security mechanism, are also competing in Indonesia. occupy a place in the great power competition. Indonesia, on the other hand, rethinks its national security in a rapidly evolving strategic environment, and wants to use hard power to strengthen its role in regional affairs.
The fire that lights up Indonesia

  All because the “Okus” agreement accidentally triggered a long-buried good hand in Indonesia.
  Indonesia has a unique strategic position and strategic resources, and it can count at least a dozen of the world’s best. First of all, Indonesia faces Oceania, is adjacent to the Pacific Ocean to the north and the Indian Ocean to the south. It is a “crossroad” and strategic hub connecting the two continents and connecting the two oceans. Secondly, Indonesia is the largest archipelago country in the world. The island group is about 5,120 kilometers long from east to west. Between these islands, the Malacca Strait, Karimata Strait, Sunda Strait, Lombok Strait, Makassar Strait and Malu Strait are formed. World-class trade and military channels such as the Ancient Strait. Furthermore, Indonesia is the country with the largest land area and population in Southeast Asia, with a land area of ​​1.917 million square kilometers, a marine area of ​​3.166 million square kilometers, and an exclusive economic zone of 6.16 million square kilometers. With a population of 279 million, Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world.
  Since Indonesia has such abundant strategic resources, why does it not have a strong presence in the world?
  After a long story, Southeast Asia is regarded as a geopolitical “broken area” and “marginal area”, which has been occupied and colonized by Western powers for a long time in the past; after the independence of each country, no one is strong enough to undertake regional “unification”. It was not until the establishment of ASEAN in the mid-1960s that the “broken areas” were gradually integrated; especially in recent years, Southeast Asian countries have promoted regional and international cooperation based on the principle of “ASEAN centrality”, and ASEAN’s status has become more and more important. .
  This situation in ASEAN is set on Indonesia, and there is no sense of disobedience. Indonesia used to be a famous “orphan of turmoil”. It cleans up domestic separatist and rebel forces, prevents the intrusion and division of neighboring countries, and covers nearly 20,000 islands, which is enough for the central government to do its job. However, on the basis of Indonesia’s rapid economic development after 2008, Jokowi, who came to power in 2014, pushed forward the “Global Maritime Pivot” strategy to promote Indonesia’s integration into the international community and the development of its own strength from political, economic and military levels. Indonesia is like a rising “star”, but it is so short of fire.
  The “Okus” agreement between the United States, Britain and Australia has inadvertently become the fire that illuminates Indonesia. The United States and Britain joined forces to help Australia build nuclear submarines, apparently for China. The U.S. officials made it very clear, so China must be angry. The submarine order in Paris was robbed, and France must be unhappy. What did not expect is that ASEAN was suddenly divided: the Philippines and Singapore expressed understanding and support, while Indonesia and Malaysia questioned and In opposition, the Indonesian media even exclaimed that Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, would be surrounded by nuclear weapons.
  Australia is too close to Indonesia, there is a sovereignty dispute between the two countries, and the estrangement between the two sides still exists due to the East Timor issue. Therefore, if the eight nuclear submarines of the Australian Navy are deployed in place, Indonesia will inevitably be on the back, and the threat it feels is unparalleled. of.
  After the “Okus” agreement was promulgated, no one in the EU applauded, and US allies such as Japan and South Korea in the Asia-Pacific region supported it implicitly. Southeast Asia is right next to Australia, and ASEAN is now the leader of several regional security frameworks. Obviously, the understanding and support (or at least no opposition) of ASEAN is one of the important factors for the smooth implementation of the agreement. Therefore, the attitude of Indonesia facing Australia is very important.
Australia is too close to Indonesia, there is a sovereignty dispute between the two countries, and the estrangement between the two sides still exists due to the East Timor issue. Therefore, if the eight nuclear submarines of the Australian Navy are deployed in place, Indonesia will inevitably be on the back, and the threat it feels is unparalleled. of.

  Indonesia is the leader of ASEAN and a member of the “trillion-dollar club of world economies”. In recent years, its military force has been firmly ranked 16th in the world, and it also controls many important international strait passages. Moreover, since December 1, 2021, Indonesia will take over the rotating presidency of the G20 in 2022, and will take over the ASEAN and ASEAN+3 presidencies in 2023. It can be said that the geostrategic value is rising. His attitude and position on “Okus” and other major international issues have also attracted much attention.
Foreign powers are mobilizing

  In the face of new geographical changes, the three parties to the “Okus” agreement (the United States, Britain and Australia) successively sent senior officials to Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries to lobby, explaining that the tripartite agreement was not aimed at ASEAN countries, and Australia did not seek to acquire nuclear weapons, and tried to provide investment, Incentives such as vaccines have eased Indonesia’s concerns about the agreement.
  From 5-11 November 2021, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne will take the lead to visit Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia. The first and last two countries are the key points, and the last visit to Indonesia is also considered. Payne’s visit to Southeast Asia is to allay ASEAN countries’ concerns about Australia’s nuclear submarine program.
  Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss will travel to Southeast Asia from November 7 to 12, visiting Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. The key countries to visit are the same as those of Australia. In Indonesia, Truss met with Indonesian President Joko Widodo. The two sides discussed strategic economic cooperation and other regional issues, but explaining the “Okus” agreement to Indonesia is an important purpose of Trus’s visit.
  After Australia and Britain, the United States also mobilized. Although the Biden administration has attached more importance to Southeast Asia after taking office, Defense Secretary Austin, Vice President Harris and others who visited Southeast Asia before have passed by Indonesia and never went to Jakarta. Instead, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno went there in early August. In Washington, the strategic dialogue between the United States and Indonesia was launched. Regarding the intentional or unintentional neglect of the United States, the Indonesian media asked the soul: “Are we still important to the United States? Is the United States still our friendly partner?” After that, the “Okus” agreement came out. Seeing Indonesia’s repeated objections, the United States Finally could not sit still. On December 13, US Secretary of State Blinken arrived in Jakarta, starting a four-day visit to Southeast Asia. Blinken originally planned to also visit Malaysia and Thailand, but due to the confirmed new crown of the entourage, his trip to Thailand was cancelled and he returned to the United States ahead of schedule.
  On the day of his arrival in Jakarta, Blinken met with Widodo and expressed his “support for Indonesia’s leadership in the Indo-Pacific region as the world’s third largest democracy and a strong supporter of a rules-based international order.” This is the first time the United States has called Indonesia the “third largest democracy in the world”, and the routine sounds very familiar. On December 14, Blinken held talks with Retno and delivered a speech at the University of Indonesia on the topic of “America’s Indo-Pacific Strategy”, proposing to strengthen defense and intelligence cooperation with Indo-Pacific partners, and to describe the United States’ “Indo-Pacific economy”. frame”.

  In Putrajaya, Malaysia, Blinken met with Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin and Prime Minister Ismail Sabri respectively, and continued to exaggerate China’s threat and tout the Indo-Pacific strategy, and encouraged ASEAN countries to stand on the side of the United States. Its subtext is: “Okus” is used to deal with China, ASEAN countries must support.
  On the other side, major powers such as France and Russia, excluded from the new Indo-Pacific security mechanisms such as the “Quartet Security Dialogue” and “Okus” of the United States, regard Indonesia as a bridge for their countries to enter Southeast Asia, and thus join the game of great powers in the Indo-Pacific region.
  From November 23 to 25, French Foreign Minister Le Drian visited Indonesia and spent 3 days in Jakarta, showing his sincerity. He visited Widodo and met with Foreign Minister Retno, Defense Minister Prabowo and other ministers. France was the most direct victim of the “Okus” agreement, which Le Drian slammed, saying it broke with the practice of not transferring advanced military nuclear technology to countries other than permanent members of the Security Council, and said France “wants to become the intermediaries in the Pacific and European countries,” and pledged to invest 500 million euros in energy transition projects in Southeast Asian countries. The two sides signed the “2022-2027 Action Plan for Deepening Strategic Partnership”, which prioritizes strengthening cooperation in health, defense, climate change, energy and maritime.
  While Blinken and Widodo met, Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council, also arrived outside the Indonesian presidential palace. Blinken came out on the front foot, and Patrushev entered the back foot to talk with Joko Widodo. The two sides agreed to expand the channels of military cooperation between Russia and Indonesia. Earlier in December, Indonesia also hosted the first ASEAN-Russia joint naval exercise in the North Sumatra Sea.
“Huge” Indonesia’s Choice

  Indonesia has never been more sought after by the great powers than it is now, but neither has it been carried away. No matter how pleasant the rhetoric of the US, UK and Australia, Australia’s nuclear submarine program is a long-term threat to Indonesia. Indonesia’s active development of relations with other major powers such as France and Russia is a concrete manifestation of its “great power balance” and “hedging strategy”.
  Faced with such a rare security challenge as “Okus”, Indonesia needs to re-examine the strategic environment it faces and use its soft and hard power to deal with new security challenges. For now, Indonesia is focusing on shaping its own hard power. Don’t forget that Indonesia was also a military power in the region. Although it has since declined, it still has the dream of a military power.
The day after the “Okus” agreement was reached, Indonesia signed a contract with the British company Babcock to purchase two “Arrow-140” guided missile frigates, each with a displacement of 5,700 tons. This is of course just a coincidence in timing, but it shows that Indonesia is steadily expanding its military.

  In the 1960s, Indonesia became friendly with the Soviet Union, introduced 12 Type 613 submarines from the Soviet Union, and recruited the Soviet Navy cruiser “Ordzhonikidze” under its command and renamed it “Irian”. In this way, Indonesia was not only the first country in Southeast Asia to have submarines and cruisers, but its combat strength was not to be underestimated in the Asia-Pacific region at that time. Only with the subsequent political turmoil and economic depression, Indonesia’s military strength has been declining.
  In order to revive its former glory, Indonesia has vigorously promoted military modernization in recent years, including the introduction of 3 “Zhang Baogao” class submarines from South Korea and 8 “Sigma” class light frigates from the Netherlands, etc. The overall strength has recovered. In the “2021 Global Firepower Index (GFP) Ranking” published by the “Global Firepower” website, Indonesia ranks 16th out of 138 countries or regions surveyed, but this is far from what Indonesia expected.
  The Indonesian Navy’s long-term plan proposes to have at least 12 submarines and 16 guided missile frigates, which is considered to be the “bottom line number”. At present, the Indonesian Navy has only 4 submarines and 7 guided missile frigates. Indonesia has been negotiating with France to buy Scorpene-class submarines. After the exposure of Australia’s nuclear submarine program, Indonesia’s submarine development pace has accelerated. In terms of surface ships, Indonesia is no longer satisfied with small tonnage frigates, but seeks medium and large missile frigates.
  In June 2021, Indonesia ordered six “European Multi-Mission Frigates” (FREMM) guided-missile frigates and two second-hand Mistral-class frigates from Italy. The former has a displacement of 6,000 tons and the size of a guided-missile destroyer. On September 16, the second day after the “Okus” agreement was reached, Indonesia signed a contract with the British Babcock Company to purchase two “Arrow-140” guided missile frigates, each with a displacement of 5,700 tons. This is of course just a coincidence in timing, but it shows that Indonesia is steadily expanding its military.
  The Indonesian Air Force has always wanted to purchase the Russian Su-35 and Su-57. The original agreement was reached, but the threat of U.S. sanctions deterred Indonesia, and later Indonesia intends to introduce the French Rafale fighter. Le Drian visited Indonesia, and after talking about the dangers of the “Okus”, he negotiated with Indonesia about the sale of 36 “Rafale” fighter jets. The United States and the United Kingdom pry France’s submarine contract in Australia, and France hopes to win a game back in Indonesia. Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo is the promoter of the Rafale purchase, and Le Drian specifically communicated with him face to face.
  Indonesia’s military-strengthening measures prove that even though Indonesia’s geo-strategic value is high and it is vying to be wooed by foreign powers, the benefits that big powers can give Indonesia are not much, let alone make Indonesia safe. In fact, it is difficult for Indonesia to influence the implementation of the “Okus” agreement, so it chooses to enrich its own arsenal and win the understanding and support of more foreign powers, so as to exert its “out-of-the-circle” influence in regional and international affairs. Compared with “standing in line” and forming alliances for peace, “big man” Indonesia would rather believe in those advanced weapons and equipment.

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